Be One Who H.O.L.D.S. God's Word!
A sermon based on Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9
Sunday, September 19, 2012 – Pentecost 15B
It's been said that 93% of communication is non-verbal. For example: [With a smile and arms outstretched], "Four years our nation was in trouble and look at all President Obama has done for us since!" and [With a frown and arms crossed], "Four years our nation was in trouble and look at all President Obama has done for us since!" Those two statements mean completely different things by completely different parties. And it's important to know the difference. That means if you want to really get the message, you need to really pay attention! You need to not only hear what's said, but how it's said. You need to observe.
This morning God tells us something similar. If you want to get his Word, you need to really pay attention. You need to hear his Word and observe it. One who really pays attention in this way holds that knowledge. This morning then we'll using the acronym, holds, H.O.L.D.S., to see how Moses teaches how one can be a person who holds the truth of God's Word. First you, H-hear it, then O-observe it. Then you'll L-live by God's Word and D-don't forget it, but remember it daily and finally, in thanks, we'll S-share the truths we know with others. Hear it. Observe it. Live by it. Don't ever forget it. And share it. Listen to Moses' instruction in Deuteronomy 4 that you might be one who holds God's truth...
1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you...6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Moses was near the end of his life. He knew that he wouldn't go into the Promised Land himself, but would die before the Israelites crossed over Jordan. And so, before they parted company, Moses wanted to impress on God's people how they could hold on to the truth of God's laws and decrees -- the most important message ever communicated.
And the first step was to "Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you." In other words, show up to Moses' Bible class. There's not much you can do with God's Word until you first learn what it says. Brothers and sisters, the same is true of us. What use is your Bible if it's left closed on the shelf? It's no better than a paperweight.
What good is Bible class to you if you don't attend. What blessings we daily take for granted when we neglect that Word that is so readily available to us because we have more pressing things to do. And so we don't even listen.
But that's not you, right? After all, you're here, at least in worship if not Bible class. You hear it. And when you can't be here you download the sermon later or read it in your email inbox. But there's a difference between just hearing and listening. You can read your daily Bible chapter to check it off your to-do list without gleaning a single insight from it. You can sit in the pew and think about all you have to get done this week or just this afternoon and even recite your parts of the liturgy and prayers without giving them a glancing thought. To hold on to God's Word we need to really listen. Actively listen. Ask questions. Dig for answers. Take notes in your Bible. Participate, even now when you're just listening.
And more than that, Moses didn't stop with just hearing the Word. He said "Don't just listen, but observe." Of course he didn't mean we should be spectators, just watch how others keep the Word, like we observe a football game. No, he meant observe like we should observe the speed limit -- that is keep it! Do what the Word says! Or as Jesus put it, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
Why should we? Because it's a matter of life and death. Moses said, "Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you." Implied, of course, is "Don't follow them and you'll die without seeing the Promised Land"—a message that may have been personal for Moses who would die outside the Promised Land because he didn't observe what God commanded.
Sometimes I think we view the commands God gives as a burden, as if God's law were some sort of killjoy keeping us from enjoying life. But God gives his commands to bless us and give us life.
A little boy was riding his tricycle furiously around the block, over and over again. Finally a policeman stopped and asked him why he was going around and around. The boy said that he was running away from home. So the policeman asked why he kept going around the block. The boy responded, "Because my mom said that I'm not allowed to cross the street." The point? Obedience keeps you close to those who love you.
But how well do you obey? Do you love God with an undivided heart? Do you hunger and thirst for his Word, just biding the time until you can dig into it again? Or do you view your personal devotion as one more thing that has to be done? Do you even do that much? Are you always glad when someone says to you, "Let's go to the house of the Lord!"? Or can you think of a number of things you'd really rather be doing right now?
Imagine you wrote a love poem for someone you cared deeply about and you sat down to read it to them and pour out your heart. And as you did, that person reached for the remote and started surfing or started to trim their nails or work on a sudoku puzzle. "No, no. Go on. I'm listening." Wouldn't you rightly be hurt? Think how we must hurt God by the way we treat his Word with such ho-hum attitudes. "Follow [God's decrees and laws] so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you."? Then we surely deserve to die and be left out of the heaven that the Lord, the God of our fathers is giving.
But thank God that his Word is not all laws, but also decrees. Just think of all the times God decreed his love for his people through Moses. He rescued his people out of Egypt and decreed that just as the angel of death had passed over their homes by the blood of the Passover lamb, so God's wrath would pass over his people by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes a way the sins of the world! -- the blood shed on the cross.
Just as God miraculously provided safe passage from death to life through the Red Sea, so too he would miraculously provide safe passage from eternal death to life through his own son. Just as they did nothing to save themselves from the poisonous venom coursing through their veins, but simply looked to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole, so too they didn't need to do anything to save themselves from the deadly sin polluting their souls, but simply look to the Son of God lifted up on a cross.
As he provided water from the rock for their thirst, he provided the Living Water of Christ for their souls. As he gave them bread from heaven, he gave them Living Bread. And the list could go on and on... The Books of the Law is a bit of a misnomer, with all those gospel promises, isn't it?
And when Moses said, "Follow them... keep the commands of the LORD... Observe them carefully..." Surely these gospel promises were included. When spoke of obedience surely he included obience to the gospel (as both Peter and Paul put it - cf. 1 Peter 4:17 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8), that is, to believe it.
Jesus took our many failures to pay attention to God's Word -- as we've been distracted by the cares and worries of this life -- all on himself. He took all our failures to obey God's Law or believe his Gospel -- focusing on our desires or our fears instead -- all on himself. He suffered the penalty of hell that those failures deserve. And on the cross he gave his perfect record of faithfully hearing, obeying and sharing God's Word to you and me.
And as we observe those gospel decrees of his forgiveness, we will not die, but will live. And we will go in and take possession of the the land that the Lord, the God of our fathers, is giving us -- that is, our Promised Land of heaven.
And our response? We will eagerly live God's Word every day and "don't forget"...
IV. Don't Forget
Moses encourages us to "be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live."
Holding on to God's Word isn't like riding a bike, where once you get it, you never forget it. It's not like reading a book one time where you get the information you want from it and then give it to The Shelf. No! It's more like your retirement savings, where you invest bit by bit, little by little, day by day, never stopping until you retire -- or with God's Word, until you expire. And because it's a matter of life and death and we know that by these Words [holding up the Bible] we live, we are eager to read it, hear it, learn it, and as the old prayer so beautifully put it, "inwardly digest" the Word of God every day!
Just as we know that eating one time each week wouldn't be enough to keep us healthy and well, we know that coming to worship once a week won't provide adequate food for our souls. But even if you could get by on one meal a week, I'm guessing most of us would still eat more of the foods we love. So too, we love the Word of God that reveals our Savior's love for us. And we can't get enough!
Literally translated Moses encouragement to "watch yourselves closely" is "guard or keep your soul." Don't forget what God has done, friends, but get regular reminders, by your time spent in the Word, by the devotions you read, by the decorations on your wall, by the daily reminders of the cross that are all around.
And finally, as we keep that daily focus, we won't be able to help but share the Word with others. Because when they see how we live, they'll want to know what makes us different...
Moses said, "Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees... Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
As you observe God's commands, your co-workers, your friends, your family, will take notice. And through it God will open doors and give you opportunity to share his decrees, especially his gospel decrees with others. As you grow in your faith you'll be eager to pass it on with others. As the kids' song puts it, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon, all those around are warmed up in its glowing. That's how it is with God's love once you've experienced it." Or as the Psalmist put it, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done."
And you have many opportunities to do that. School teachers, Sunday school teachers, parents, you all have a special opportunity to "Teach [Gods' Word] to your children and to their children after them." All of you have theat opportunity to share God's Word by the words you speak, by the emails you send, by what you post on Facebook, by the example you set, by the prayers you offer God, and by the gifts you give in support of Christian education. We have the words of God's grace. And we will share them.
And one other added blessings is that as we do, we'll grow even more in our faith. Researches say that 30% of what is said can be retained by students. But 50% is retained if it's heard and seen. The percentage jumps to 70% if it's heard, seen, and acted upon. But when it's heard, seen, done, and taught, 90% is retained!
Dear friends, though we deserve to die and be excluded from God's Promised Land of heaven, thanks to Jesus and his obedience to the commands of God, we will not die, but will live. Let's then be like one who holds on to the Word of God. Hear it. Observe it. Live by it. Don't ever forget it. And share it. Hold on, dear friends. Amen.